Wednesday, July 29, 2009


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

A peaceful society confronted with the face of evil.
A legacy of a legendary sword and the long shadow of a hero warrior.
Deceit, deception and redemption.

Such are the themes that run through this graphic interpretation of the popular REDWALL series of books by author Brian Jacques. The REDWALL tapestry that Jacques has created is filled with characters and stories, but this graphic novel (illustrated by Bret Blevins) follows the attack on the peaceful Redwall Abbey in Mossflower Country by the evil Cluny the Scourge, a one-eyed, poison-tailed king rat who wreaks havoc everywhere he goes.

Cluny has his sights set on destroying the Abbey stronghold where the mice (and a few other critters) of Redwall live out their lives. At the center of this particularly graphic novel is the young mouse, Matthias, and his realization that he truly embodies the spirit of the great mouse hero from long ago, Martin the Warrior, whose sword has disappeared over time. While Cluny the Scourge attacks the Redwall Abbey, Matthias searches for the sword, and removes it from the lair of a massive snake just in time to bring revenge upon the attacking rats.

REDWALL moves quickly from scene to scene, leaving the reader breathless with cliffhangers and plot developments, but most of the loose ends are tied up as the mice are victorious over the invaders of the Redwall Abbey. In true Jacques fashion, the aftermath of the battle provides the main characters with an opportunity for reflection and renewal, as the abbey is now set to become a safe haven for other creatures in the woods, including the sparrows and shrews who came to the mice's defense in their hour of need. The book ends with the leader of Redwall – the Abbott – dying but reminding the Redwall citizens:

"Do not be sad, for mine is a peaceful rest. And Redwall ... our home ... is safe."

Blevin successfully captures the images of these creatures of Redwall. The black and white drawings could have benefited from some color, perhaps, but even in this grey scale world of shadows and light, the glint of evil is as clear on the face of the nasty Cluny as is the courage on face of Matthias. There are many characters floating in and out of the stories, but Blevin does a good job of making the main characters distinguishable from each other. The artwork is a nice tandem to Jacques' writing.

There are many middle and high school readers (my guess, from personal experience, is that they are mostly boys) have grown up reading the many books of the Redwall series. These novels are dense, and full of rich language and vocabulary (and sometimes, as in the case of the sparrows here, dialect), and many intersecting histories are being told or called upon.

This graphic novel may provide an entry into the novel series for readers seeking more challenges and stories of adventure. It might be interesting for students to use REDWALL as a character study, contrasting both Cluny the rat (evil) and Matthias the mouse (good), as both characters are visited in their dreams by the historical hero, Martin the Warrior.

It is unfortunate that the female characters are mostly given a backseat here, although one of the strongest and smartest defenders of Redwall during the battles with Cluny is Constance the Badger, whose character is more prominent in the novels than in the graphic adaptation.

  • Reading level: Ages 9-12
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 148
  • Publisher: Philomel
  • ISBN-10: 0399244816
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399244810

I would highly recommend this book as an action/adventure story for middle and high school students, with the caveat that there is violence throughout the book as the Redwall mice and friends defend themselves from the marauding rats. Characters on both sides die often, and sometimes in gruesome ways (for example, the huge snake who has stolen Martin the Warrior's sword is eventually decapitated by Matthias).

The message of founding a society based on peaceful means and maintaining these values even in the face of evil is an important theme of the Redwall series. Even in victory, the mice are merciful. While the story is set at an abbey, there are no specific religious overtones to the story that might offend readers.


M said...

Oh, I'll have to try to grab this. I've just made a concerted effort to introduce more graphic novels into my grade 5/6 reader's workshop after reading this blog. So far they ADORE Mail Order Ninja and are waiting impatiently for the second Amulet.

Mr. Wilson said...

Mrs. D,

Amulet 2 will be out this fall.

Mr. Wilson said...

Mrs. D.

You should also check out Mouse Guard. It is exceptional.